OBJECTIVES: Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and oncogene Neu belong to a family of growth factor receptors which may play a part in carcinogenesis. Although increased serum concentrations of Neu and EGFR have been shown in several patients with asbestosis who later developed cancer, serum concentrations have not been studied in workers exposed in the past to asbestos but without asbestos related diseases. METHODS: Serum concentrations of secreted growth factor receptors were studied in 300 workers exposed in the past to asbestos and the results were compared with those of 70 controls. RESULTS: In the controls 4.3% (3/70) had EGFR values > 912 units/ml, compared with 39% (117/299) of the exposed group (p < 0.001). The difference in high values was even more pronounced for Neu with 4.3% of controls having Neu values > 2580 fmol/ml compared with 72% (216/299) of the exposed workers (p < 0.001). Pleural plaques predicted lower serum concentrations of EGFR but not lower Neu concentrations, and this finding remained significant after adjustment for age, exposure time, smoking, and time from initial exposure. CONCLUSIONS: Enhanced secretion of EGFR and Neu was found in a large cohort of retired asbestos workers with a wide range of exposure and latency periods. They did not have asbestosis or cancer and their EGFR values were higher in those without plaques. Further studies are needed to confirm our results, to determine the source of the secreted growth factor receptors, and to study their possible value as risk factors in the development of cancer.
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